Updated: 22-May-2003 NATO Speeches


22 May 2003


Opening remarks

by NATO Secretary General, Lord Robertson
at the Ohrid Regional Conference
on Border Management and Security

Prime Minister Crvenkovski,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I have visited the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia(1) many times during my tenure as NATO Secretary General, and it is a pleasure to be back. But let me say right away that, as beautiful as I find your country, I am also very pleased that circumstances allow me to visit much less often than I did two years ago.

As a matter of fact, it is not just this country but the entire Western Balkans which now feature much less prominently on my travel schedule than it used to do. The reasons are simple. Today the region is much more stable and more secure. Fewer and fewer multinational soldiers are needed to keep the peace. And all the countries in the region are making steady progress.

This does not mean that your problems are over. There is still some way to go, and the international community must stay involved. But the progress is clear for everyone to see.

When, before too long, the countries of this region enter into Euro-Atlantic institutions as stable, prosperous democracies, sharing our common values and contributing to our security, that will not be by accident. It will be the result of a strong commitment to solving security challenges together.

This country has been a prominent part of this positive evolution in more ways than one. It was here in this country that, two years ago, we applied some important lessons learned in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo. It was here that we took action early to stem an emerging crisis. It was here that we intervened in a well-coordinated fashion – the EU, the OSCE and NATO, all complementing each other.

Finally, it was here, in this historic city of Ohrid, that our combined efforts culminated in the signing of a groundbreaking agreement, averting the threat of civil war.

The success of the international community’s early engagement in this country made possible another breakthrough, just a few months ago: the smooth handover of NATO’s “Operation Allied Harmony” to the European Union’s “Operation Concordia”.

This is the EU’s first military operation. But it takes place in a transatlantic framework, with NATO support; and it shows the strong determination of our two organisations to work together to assist all the countries of the Western Balkans towards Euro-Atlantic integration.

Against this background of determined and successful international engagement, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and Ohrid in particular, is a fitting venue for this regional conference. For this is a conference which unites countries of the region with several international organisations to address the crucial question of border security.

Why is border security crucial? Because without it – as we see only too clearly at the moment – organised crime can too easily cross borders, creating ideal conditions for drug smuggling, gun-running, human trafficking, terrorism and political violence.

Individually, each of these problems would be serious enough. Together, they pose a real threat to stability and security in this region. They complicate reform efforts and so hamper further progress. And they cause some major headaches throughout Europe, which damages your efforts to integrate with the rest of the continent.

So we have to deal with this problem, and we have to deal with it quickly. Although when I say “we”, in the first place I mean “you” – the countries of the region. Because just as the international community has encouraged you to take ownership of economic, military and other reform challenges, so you must take real ownership of this issue as well. To recognise border security as a matter that is critical to the integrity and long-term future of your nations – and to take care of it.

It is clear that border security requires international coordination. There are always two nations on either side of a border – and efforts by one must be matched by the other if they are to have a lasting positive effect.

Moreover, since international coordination is required, it also makes sense to involve international organisations – particularly those with experience in the conceptual and practical issues related to border security. These organisations, all represented here today, have an interest in sharing their experience because it will help their day-to-day work, making possible further and faster progress in the region, and bringing closer the day when the international community’s presence is no longer required.

This is certainly the perspective the NATO Alliance brings to this issue. NATO is only too familiar with the problem of porous borders in this part of Europe. These past few years, NATO-led forces have been engaged in a major effort to control the border and interdict smuggling between Kosovo and this country. In doing so, we believe that we have made a significant contribution to stability and security on both sides of the border.

But NATO-led military forces should not have to control borders, either here or elsewhere in the region. Indeed, in the longer term, your own military forces should not really be controlling your borders. Because border security is a task for civilian authorities. It is a job for police and customs authorities in the first place, assisted by military forces in exceptional circumstances only, and all working according to rules and regulations set out in an appropriate legal framework.

The Common Platform that we have been developing in the run-up to this conference places considerable emphasis on this delineation of responsibilities between civilian and military authorities. It should be at the heart of your national policies and strategies. It should also underpin any bilateral and multilateral mechanisms that you develop for the exchange of information, and for operational cooperation with neighbouring countries.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I hope, and expect, that the countries represented at this conference will lend strong endorsement to the Common Platform. A lot of work has gone into this document – work that has resulted in a comprehensive and realistic approach to the issue of border security.

The Platform is comprehensive because it sets out a number of short- and longer-term objectives for all the countries concerned, and because it identifies a range of mechanisms and procedures which will help them in achieving those objectives. Yet the Platform is also realistic in recognising that implementation of even some of the most pressing policy decisions may in fact take some time, because of the inherent difficulty of institutional change and the still sometimes fragile security environment in this region.

But the unique strength of the Platform lies in the continuing strong engagement in this whole effort by four influential and resourceful international organisations – the European Union, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Stability Pact, and the NATO Alliance. The Platform underlines that we stand ready to assist you, and to review with you the progress you are making, so that we all get the most out of our joint effort.

Tomorrow, basing themselves on the Platform, national experts and representatives from international organisations will take the next step. They will exchange views and experiences and identify more clearly in a Way Forward Document what each of us can do in the short-term, if possible before the end of this year.

I have high hopes of this process. If the past few months and years have proved anything, it is that we cannot face the security threats of today with the tools of yesterday. Outdated hostilities and outdated policies will only leave the borders of this region open to the threats that we now face, and which we must defeat. I count on this conference to show that we all, finally, are getting that message.

  1. Turkey recognises the Republic of Macedonia with its constitutional name.

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